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Anxiety garden

I’d been ready for five minutes, waiting inside by the front door, coat on, bag in hand. I didn’t like to be late. I didn’t want to keep Sue waiting, especially when she had so kindly offered to give me a lift. Mind you, I suppose she knew that I’d never leave the house otherwise.

A blue car pulled up outside, stopping on a double yellow line. Fretful that she’d get a parking ticket, I hurried out through the door, locking it behind me. I’d made it five steps down the garden path before I turned back and checked that the door was locked. It was. I zipped my keys into an inside pocket of my bag and trotted towards the car. Before I crossed the pavement, I paused and looked both ways up and down the street. Sometimes there were youths speeding along on bicycles or kicking balls. What if I knocked into someone in my haste or I was hit by a stray ball? Fortunately, the street was empty except for a woman pushing a pram up near the corner shop.

I climb into the front passenger seat of Sue’s car, put on my seatbelt and clutch my bag in my lap.

“Hi,” I say with a glance in Sue’s direction, my gaze reaching no higher than her midriff.

“Good morning, how are you?” Sue’s voice is melodic and calm.

“Good, fine.”

“Do you remember what we talked about? Do you understand what’s going to happen today?”

I nod. I check my wrist watch. I don’t like to be late. I resist the urge to turn around and see if there is a police car behind us. We’re still parked on the double yellows.

“Are you still alright to do this?”

I nod.

Finally, Sue puts the car in gear and we set off. It’s not a long journey out to the edge of the city. I flinch when a cyclist whizzes past my window as he speeds along the cycle lane as we wait at the traffic lights. I tense when the truck in front of us brakes suddenly. I fiddle with the zipper on my bag.

Thankfully, we make it to the park without mishap and we find a parking space with ease. I was worried that the carpark would be full but we’ve made it with a few minutes to spare. Sue opens my door. I’d been too busy thinking about what we would have done if there hadn’t been any parking to notice that she'd climbed out of the car.

“Come on,” she says.

We walk side by side up the muddy track through the woods. My legs start to ache. I haven’t left the house for weeks and have done very little exercise for a lot longer than that. Sue matches her pace to mine, although I’m sure her athletic frame could move faster.

It’s not far to the site. We pass through a gap in a fence made of woven sticks. Beyond, the ground is carpeted in yellow daffodils beneath small trees. The sun breaks through the clouds and lights up the spring green leaves just starting to unfurl on the branches and highlights the bright yellow flowers, their heavy heads bobbing in the breeze.

There’s a scent that’s clean and fresh, of green growing things emerging from rich soil.

We follow a narrow path through a hedge which is a mix of sharp black thorns and soft white blossoms. In front of us is a huge dome created from trees all grown together. It reminds me of a circle of people with their arms around each other, heads bowed.

As I step inside the living structure, I feel a sense of safety and peace. There are other people already here but I daren’t look up and catch anyone’s attention. I shuffle over to a wooden stool and sit down. Sue sits next to me.

A couple of other people arrive and we all sit in a circle.

A woman with long silver hair starts talking but I find it difficult to concentrate on what she’s saying. I’m afraid that the others are looking at me, that they know that I’m a failure. I’m worried about the exercises we’re going to practise because I know I’m not going to be able to do them. My chest tightens with the onset of a panic attack. I can’t cope. I should have stayed at home.

A bird lands on a branch just outside the dome. It’s tiny and fragile. It would fit easily between my palms. Its plumage is blue and yellow like some exotic creature yet somehow it seems to be right at home here.

I realise that the woman leading the session has stopped talking and I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I keep my eyes on the bird. A comforting silence descends, broken only by whispering leaves and distant birdsong.

The bird yawns. I had no idea that birds did that. My lips quirk into a brief smile and the pressure in my chest eases. The bird uses its beak to groom the feathers on its chest and then along the front edge of one of its wings.

I am absorbed, fascinated. My heart swells with a lightness I barely recognise. For a brief moment, I am fully present, wholly engaged in this singular instant. For a moment, I completely forget about fear and anxiety.

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